By Jeff Weinstein
As travelers return in droves to international travel, some will inevitably forget to pack their necessary over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
Many more will forget or not know to check the international rules and regulations for common medicines easily obtained in their home country — but possibly not allowed overseas.
Trip-takers consistently list “forgetting to pack prescription and over-the-counter medicine” as one of the top 10 travel mistakes, according to the Global Rescue Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey. Nearly one-out-of-ten travelers have forgotten to pack prescription medicines before a trip despite their importance.
Simple illnesses that can be treated with over-the-counter medicines can ruin a trip — or even become more severe and require in-hospital care — if you’re not prepared to treat them while traveling. Remedies for ailments such as colds, pain, swelling, diarrhea, constipation, cuts, and dehydration can all be useful.
And of course, prescription meds can be vital.
But Here’s the Rub
But checking to see whether your medicines — prescribed or over-the-counter — are regulated in the countries you plan to visit is also crucial.
Many countries require medicines to be transported in original packaging. Prescription and over-the-counter medications without packaging run a greater risk of being confiscated.
The U.S. Department of State suggests checking with the foreign embassies of the countries you are visiting — or just transiting — to make sure your medications are permitted.
For example, the active ingredient in Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is banned in Zambia in over-the-counter products. In Japan, it is allowed only if the amount in a tablet or injection is limited. And a typical 25-milligram tablet of Tylenol PM in the U.S. exceeds the 10-milligram maximum amount in a tablet you can bring into Japan.
Check the Ingredients
Some countries restrict the overall total amount of an active ingredient an individual traveler can legally import, which may impact longer stays, according to a report in The New York Times.
Travelers should check their destination rules on over-the-counter medicine, such as cough syrups and some allergy medications, because some require a prescription, are strictly regulated, or banned overseas.
Over-the-counter medicine for traveler’s diarrhea may be regulated, too. Pepto-Bismol is not sold in France due to a health scare in the 1970s. Imodium is only sold in France with a prescription.
If you think you might need anti-diarrheal, cough syrups, or other products on your vacation, bring some with you from your home country. In case they’re questioned, carry documentation that indicates the generic and chemical names of the active ingredients. The ingredients list — not product brand names — determine permissibility.
Common Examples of Banned or Regulated Medicines Overseas
Decongestants: Over-the-counter decongestant medication containing pseudoephedrine – found in Sudafed and Vicks – is banned in Japan.
Anxiety Medications: Prescription medicines for anxiety or pain — such as ConZip, Ultram, Diastat AcuDial, Diazepam Intensol, Diastat and Valium — contain Tramadol or Diazepam, which are commonly prescribed medicines in the U.S. but are strictly regulated in Greece and U.A.E.
Anti-anxiety pills require a license in Singapore. Failing to comply with destination requirements for bringing these prescribed medicines into the country may result in arrest, a fine or imprisonment.
Sleep Aids and Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter sleep aids, over-the-counter pain relievers and strong painkillers all require a license in Singapore. In Indonesia, many prescription medicines such as codeine and sleeping pills are illegal.
Nigeria and Saudi Arabia both prohibit Ambien, Intermezzo and other sleeping medications that contain zolpidem. In Singapore, you’ll need a license to legally bring Ambien into the country, according to a Reader’s Digest report.
Cough and Cold Medicines: In Qatar, over-the-counter allergy medicines such as cold and cough remedies are controlled substances and must be accompanied by a prescription. Prescription codeine for cough control is illegal in Indonesia.
Attention Deficit Medicines: If you rely on medications for attention deficit disorder, like Adderall and Ritalin – then you’ll have to leave Saudi Arabia and Japan off your list of destinations.
Both countries have a zero-tolerance policy for methamphetamines and amphetamines — the active ingredients in many ADD/ADHD drugs —even if you have your prescription or a note from your doctor, according to Reader’s Digest. In Indonesia, many prescription treatments for ADHD are illegal.
It’s a lot to remember, and the information is always changing. When you are traveling in a foreign location and need over-the-counter or prescription medicine it’s important to have immediate access to a trustworthy resource who can help you. It saves time, prevents mistakes and alleviates worries.
When necessary, those of us at Global Rescue identify local physicians and pharmacies to help travelers replace a lost prescription or refill one that has run out.
Jeff Weinstein is a paramedic and a medical operations supervisor for Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services to enterprises, governments and individuals.
Next month, we will be in a lot of countries as we will be taking two cruises. They both leave from Rome. So Italy will be the only nation we’ll be in with meds not secured in our cruise ship cabin. I would think those meds will be pretty safe there even in countries hostile to some of the ingredients. Italy, from what I’ve read, should not be a problem.
Three years ago I was coming down with a cold while in Copenhagen. So I went to a pharmacy looking for guaifenesin, which is about the only cold medicine I can take. But, like all the pharmacies I saw in Denmark, even the OTC meds are not on open shelves. The clerk types the name into a computer, and the meds drop down a chute. And I forgot the name guaifenesin, and instead asked for glyphosate. It turns out, that is the active ingredient in Round Up. Fortunately, they didn’t have it. — John Robbins
Clark Norton Replies:
Hilarious story about Denmark, John. And enjoy your cruises!